This GOP Christianity (or “What Wouldn’t Jesus Do?”)

What Would Jesus Do?

When I began my ministry career twenty years ago, this was the rallying cry of American Christian youth culture; embossed onto colorful rubber bracelets,  adorning t-shirts, and emblazoned across student meeting rooms. It was ubiquitous in the Church and eventually crossed-over into the mainstream zeitgeist.

The premise was admirable: to try and filter everything one said or did through the lens of Jesus’ life and ministry as found in the Gospel stories; to echo his love, to perpetuate his character, to reiterate his goodness in the world. It was to seek to enter into the mind of Christ and allow oneself to be altered. And while certainly far from being a simple endeavor, it is as noble an aspiration as a professed Christian can have to face their ordinary days:

Do I resemble Jesus?
Does my life seem to be made of similar stuff?
When people see me, do they see anything that looks like what they imagine Jesus looked like?

And though it’s popularity has ebbed and flowed in past decade, the seemingly elemental question of What Would Jesus Do?, is one the professed religious folks running this country right now and those applauding them from pulpits and pews, would be wise to resurrect.

Ironically today in America, Republican Christians are putting on a master class in missing the point of our faith. In nearly every small and large decision, and in every piece of legislation, they are providing a remarkably vivid illustration of exactly what Jesus would not do:

He wouldn’t be demonizing other faith traditions.
Jesus wasn’t in the habit of making villains out of other religions. In fact, the times he does condemn the religious, is when calling out his own Jewish brethren for their hypocrisy and immorality. 

He wouldn’t’ be selling his soul for political capital.
Jesus movement was not one of power, but of humility, service, frugality and lowness. He deserved to be a king, but he chose to be a servant who lived by example.

He wouldn’t be withholding care from sick people.
Jesus was in the healing business. He spent his days moving toward the hurting and alleviating their suffering—not contributing to it or capitalizing on it.

He wouldn’t be worshiping weapons.
Before he is to be arrested without cause, Jesus tells his disciples to bring a sword, then openly condemns its use defending him, and immediately heals the injury inflicted. A benevolent preacher who shunned violence of any kind, even against one’s own body—would want no part of bearing arms.

He wouldn’t be telling people to go back where they came from.
As an itinerant, homeless preacher born to refugees, Jesus had no use for walls or borders or barriers between people. He made his home with the disparate humanity around him and invited them all in.

He wouldn’t be pissing on the planet.
Jesus spoke God’s provision for the birds and the wildflowers, and spent his time teaching on lakes and in the fields and vineyards. The world was a sacred space to him.

He wouldn’t be sticking it to poor people.
Jesus stated that he came to bring good news to those in poverty—and it wasn’t to tell them to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. He was speaking of justice.

He wouldn’t be obsessed with people’s personal plumbing or their inclination to love.
Not once in the four Gospel biographies to Jesus condemn anyone for their gender identity or sexual orientation. He simply never does.

He wouldn’t be complaining about being oppressed.
Jesus’ invitation for those who would follow him was to die to self and to welcome real adversity. He certainly would have little tolerance for those crying persecution from places of opulence and dominance.

He simply wouldn’t be doing any of these things, and so the Republicans in this Administration can invoke the name of Jesus all they want, but the proof is in the pudding—or as Jesus said “people are known by the fruit” of their lives—the tangible, measurable byproducts of their words and actions.

Ultimately we can best seek to answer the question, What Would Jesus Do? by understanding as evidenced in the Scriptures, what he did do:

Right now, Jesus would be bringing healing to the sick.
He would be feeding the multitudes.
He would be making peace with his enemies.

He would be turning his cheek.
He would be visiting the forgotten and imprisoned.
He would be ignoring social status.
He would be taking the lowest place.
He would be abdicating power.
He would be fighting for the marginalized.
He would be speaking clear truth.

In other words, Jesus would be doing the exact opposite of what this GOP is doing, though they claim Christ compels them. The evidence just isn’t there. The Jesus of the Gospels would be sick to his stomach to be associated with such greed and arrogance and violence. He would call it out as the very kind of bloated, hateful hypocrisy he came to rebel against and to invite people to join him in doing so. 

Most people outside organized Christianity already know this. Non-Christians understand it. Atheists get this. They all know enough about Jesus and the core of his beautiful, loving, countercultural message, to hold his life up against the lives of these professed Christians—and to notice there is little resemblance. They can see that these aren’t even existing in the same moral universe.

Those of us literally fighting to keep the faith from being misappropriated by those who couldn’t care less about replicating Jesus, are tired of being represented by whatever this thing has metastasized into. It does not speak for us, it is not the legacy we wish to leave the world, and above all—it is not in any way what Jesus would do.

 

 

Take Great Pride, My LGBTQ Friend

A gay friend of mine recently asked me for advice. (I’ll call him Todd.)

Todd was getting ready to see some relatives who live across the country, and he knew what he would be walking into. Ever since he came out to his family a few years ago, he’s received a seemingly endless barrage of email inquisitions, telephone interrogations, and remote sermonizing from his conservative siblings, parents, and grown children.

These communications are often quite clinical in tone, usually religious in subtext—and always infused with the expectation that Todd is eventually going to come to his senses and realize that this “experiment” of his isn’t going to work out. 

Even with a physical buffer from his family, being the object of this continual internal dissection at their hands has been exhausting. Now the prospect of enduring such microscopic investigation face to face was overwhelming him and he wanted to know how he should respond.

You may understand a bit of Todd’s experience, friend. You may know well what it’s like to have your identity or your inclination to love be a barrier between you and the people you so want the greatest proximity to. You may feel similarly burdened to explain yourself or defend your conclusions or to cross the relational divide.

Thinking about my friend and about you today, a couple of things I hope you’ll remember:

You know your road.

You know the path you’ve walked; what you’ve felt and seen and experienced that has led you here, in ways no one else ever will. You can try to help the people you love understand that road, but you don’t need to justify it to them or to anyone. You don’t need to defend your identity or to earn their approval.

I know that this isn’t a premeditated choice you’ve made, it isn’t a phase you’re going to suddenly grow out of, it isn’t an experiment you’re going to one day wake up and decide to conclude. This is the very heart of who you are, of who you’ve always been—and honestly it isn’t up for debate.

I know you desperately want to find the right words to broker peace; the ones that will allay their fears, ease their discomfort, and satisfy their theological quandaries, but this may not be possible—and it far too much to place upon your shoulders anyway. This isn’t about you. This is about their capacity to love you well. I imagine you don’t require such personal acrobatics from those you love in order for them to feel they belong in your presence. It’s likely you rarely if ever ask them to prove their worth or explain their hearts—and you should remove this burden from yourself.

The desire to be fully embraced by our families is one of the strongest gravitational pulls we experience in this life, and so I understand how much this means to you, why you endure so much; why you’re still engaging, still trying, still exposing yourself to such hurtful words and such debilitating cruelty from those you so dearly love. 

I’m never going to tell you to stop seeking understanding there or to ever give up on anyone—but I want you to remember that you are not debatable.

You know far more about yourself from the inside, than anyone ever will from the outside, no matter how well-meaning they are, how deeply held their religious beliefs are, how insistent they are that they want the best for you.

Maybe they do want the best for you—and this is it.

You are the best for you; your most authentic, unapologetic, unwavering self received without caveat or condition. And it is this you that I hope you’ll protect and defend and embrace, as you work to bridge the distance that exists. 

I pray that this truest version of you will ultimately be enough for those you so want it to be enough for, but it proves not to be, this is not your error, your sin, your mistake—it is theirs.

Remember your road, my dear friend.
Respect it.
Honor it.
Don’t apologize for it.

You know who you are.
You love who you are.
Take pride in who you are.
You are so very worth this.

 

 

 

 

Things I Think I Stopped Believing After the Election

Not only do the times change—the times change us.

Every day we are gradually altered by the world; by what we see or experience, by the people we cross paths with, by the pain and goodness we bear witness to. We are the ever-changing sum total of the moments we log here on the planet, always slightly shifting, never quite finished. 

And because of this, invariably we are going to find ourselves at times disagreeing with our former selves, no longer certain of things we believed in our core to be unquestionably true.

Over the past year, I’ve realized how many of those sacred givens are now up for debate in my heart, and how much grieving this has yielded:

All people are basically good. 

For as long as I can remember this truth has been my fundamental operating system: that once you dig through the layers of fear and disappointment and damage piled upon them by time and circumstance—that every human being is essentially decent and loving, that they are all aspiring to goodness. And while I haven’t completely jettisoned that belief, I have to confess that lately I’ve encountered far too many people who seem fully determined to conceal their goodness; who seem driven to be hurtful, who appear devoid of empathy, who seem filled with bitterness. Holding on to the conviction that every human being is inherently humane, is more difficult now than it’s ever been.

Religion makes the world better.

As a person of faith for most of my life and a pastor for nearly half of those, I want to believe that the pursuit of God is a help to Humanity; that religion is a balm to a hurting world, that it yields people who have more compassion and decency and tenderness than they would have otherwise. I used to be certain of this and I no longer am. I can’t avoid the malignant enmity manufactured by people claiming to love and speak for God—many of the worst of which come from my Christian tradition. Right now I find myself trying to defend a faith while simultaneously protecting so many who are terribly wounded by it. I am trying to point people to God who have been brutally assaulted by professed people of that God—and it’s exhausting.

America is beautifully different.

Though I never grew up with the fierce nationalistic fervor of many of my Christian brethren, I always believed that my country was different; that it was marked by something singularly wonderful which separated it from every other place on the planet. It may have been a largely imagined truth, but I always trusted that my country would ultimately do the wise and decent thing. Watching what we’ve devolved to over the past year, and seeing what inexplicably unfolded here in November and the staggering ugliness that it has produced since—has all but shattered the myth of my childhood that America was a beacon of hope for the world, and this grieves me greatly.

The table is big enough.

Maybe it was privilege-induced blindness, but until recently, I was certain we were becoming a people who embraced the full breadth of Humanity. I’d started to believe that the rich diversity of skin color, religion, sexual orientation, and gender was being celebrated more than it was being lamented. Until recently, I would have said that we were pushing hard toward equality, but right now it seems as though people are more committed than ever to seeing difference as barrier—or worse, as justification for cruelty. These days have unearthed an ugliness that may have always been there, but that doesn’t make it any less horrifying to witness or disheartening to accept. May the table is big enough, but some will never desire to gather there.

Love is all you need.

This idea has always been far greater than a pop song to me. It’s been the steady refrain of my heart as I’ve walked through the world: that love does win, that it will conquer all, that it is the antidote to all that afflicts us. I’ve lived believing that loving hateful people is the only hope you have of reaching them. Maybe I haven’t fully given up this conviction, but it is certainly being strongly challenged and undoubtedly renovated. Yes you do need love, but you need other things as an expression of that love: activism that doesn’t shrink back in the face of opposition, compassion that is willing to suffer on behalf of another, perseverance that will insist on justice when it is resisted. Maybe I still believe love is all you need—I just define love differently than I used to.

Life will always be about the alternation that we undergo as we amass time and experience here. Some days we will rejoice with what these things confirm for us, other days we will grieve. Maybe it is the sheer volume of all that seems to be changing in these days, but it certainly appears as though there is far more reason for mourning than for dancing. For many of us, the list of what we are certain of seems frighteningly short right now.

I imagine the greatest comfort in destabilizing times like these, is realizing that the story isn’t over yet; that this day offers the possibility to be again be shown the goodness of Humanity and to be proven wrong for ever doubting it. Maybe today will provide us with hope-inducing evidence that surprises us and confirms our earlier suspicions.

And this day provides us the space and time for us to become the kind of person we feel the world needs. Perhaps we can be for those who also doubt it—reason to believe that good people still inhabit this place. 

 

Christian, What’s Your Point?

Lately I find myself looking at Christians out there in the world, and more often than not wondering what on earth they think they’re doing:

I see them badgering the LGBTQ community and I wonder what good they suppose it does to make someone feel unwelcome in their faith community, to oppose them marrying the person they choose, to equate their inclination to love another adult, with something monstrous.

I watch their rabid, flag-waving nationalism, and want to ask them how they can read the Gospels of a brown-skinned, homeless, refugee Rabbi who spoke of “God so loving the world”—and how they imagine their “America First” posturing is perpetuating him in any way. 

I witness their scalding hostility toward Muslims, and wish I could ask them what they believe they’re accomplishing with their condemnation and rhetoric and lazy stereotypes; how they’re reflecting the character of Jesus, how they’re delivering Good News, how they’re loving their Muslim neighbor.

I look at the celebrity preachers and small town pastors, incessantly pointing a finger at the world, so willing to dispense damnation, so seemingly giddy to declare someone disqualified for Heaven—and I wonder how they imagine that helps show people what Jesus looks like. 

Christian, can you tell me what the point of your faith is?

I don’t mean, some dusty, parroted Sunday School answer you’ve learned to regurgitate on demand; the one you copy and paste in comment sections and toss like a grenade during arguments. I’m not talking about a theological treatise you’ve heard and committed to memory. I’m not talking about a passive-aggressive Scripture citation posted without commentary.

I mean, as you walk through this world and your specific life rubs up against the specific lives of other people—what do you intend your religion to accomplish there? What do you want your faith to say? 

I ask because whatever it is, I’m concerned it’s getting lost in translation somewhere. I’m not sure you’re saying what you intend to say with.
I think you may be speaking bitterness and contempt and judgment and grudge holding.
I’m concerned you’re speaking fear and superiority and isolation.
I’m worried that the fruit of your efforts is something far uglier and far more corrosive than what you’re intending.
I don’t know if you realize that your religion may have become weaponized.
I’m not sure you understand that it’s hurting people; not in some lofty “saving them from eternal punishment” way—but it is actually damaging them, hindering them, terrorizing them.

So what is your point, here?

I’ve been a pastor for twenty years. I’ve heard every flowery church mission statement, every systematic framework, every isolated Bible verse drop, every incendiary sermon. I’m not interested in your religious-speak or your theoretical preaching or your theological gymnastics. I’m not talking about some public declaration or social media evangelizing. 

I mean, in the quiet, solitary places, when it is just you and the God you believe to be, when you listen to the prompt of your heart—what is it that you hear that God calling you to be and do in the world? 

Christian, what I want to know is: with your individual life of faith; in the sum total of the words you speak and the work you do and the legacy you leave and the difference you make on the planet, what is your point?

And most importantly, without you broadcasting or advertising it or beating people over the head with it—would anyone know?